It Was Like Camping

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Before CFI photos

I had no idea that my threat to reveal my parents’ inn-keeping stories would get such an enthusiastic response. Given that it did, I decided to strike while the iron is still hot. I’ve been telling my own stories about the inn since I was nine years old. This post includes some of my memories from those first few days in March of 1978, when we first moved into the inn. Next time, I’ll follow up with recollections from that same period, from my parents, innkeepers Ruth and Bill.

Last time, you were left with the image of me crying in the car, not wanting to come to grips with the reality that, after all, I wasn’t moving to the Snow Mansion on the hill as I’d been fantasizing I would. Instead, our new home was a decrepit and, frankly, filthy, old farmhouse that was several years removed from its glory days as a vibrant and beautiful working farm. That is was at the gloomy end of a long winter when we took possession didn’t help matters, since the property seemed even more barren in the ice and snow.

My father lured me out of the car and into our new life by promising me that it would be like camping. And, in the beginning, it really was.

Since the inn was not going to be livable until the garbage was removed and it was properly disinfected, the six of us — our family of five and my dad’s sister, who was co-owner of the soon-to-be Combes Family Inn — took up residence in three of the motel rooms that the previous owner had built as outside units, separate from the main house. These had been the previous owner’s main source of income, particularly during ski season. Our family project was to turn the main farmhouse itself into a beautiful inn, filled with guest bedrooms and common rooms, in addition to upgrading the motel rooms.

My parents moved into room number three, while my brothers, Billy and Wayne, shared room number two.  My beloved Aunt Nancy and I shared room number one, which was closest to the main house. I adored my Aunt Nancy. Before she lived with us at the inn in Vermont, it was always the highlight of my summer to spend time with her. Over the years, she had taught me how to make beds with hospital corners, how to cook scrambled eggs with cheese and how to play various card games, “rummy 500” being my favorite.

This arrangement lasted for the two weeks it took all of us to clean out the farmhouse. Day one after the move, brother Billy was already loving the new adventure, because mom gave him a crisp twenty dollar bill to clean out a particularly nasty cupboard. He still recalls this story fondly. I, on the other hand, don’t remember about the cleaning phase—I’m sure I’ve put all that nasty business out of my mind! However, I have two strong recollections about those first few days.

One is of my first day joining the fourth grade at Ludlow Elementary School. Kim Benson, who became one of my best friends all through school and is still my friend today, asked me where I was from. When I answered “New Hampshire,” she declared “You are not a flatlander.” As that first day wore on, Kim introduced me to each classmate with the same odd introduction: “This is Sharon, she’s not a flatlander….” I could tell by the reaction of the other kids that this was a very good thing to not be a ‘flatlander’, although I had no idea what it meant. It was so exciting, in fact, that when I got off the school bus that first afternoon, I announced to my parents, “Mom, Dad, guess what? I’m not a flatlander!”  

My other memory of that period was my recognition that Dad was right, it really was like camping. My Aunt Nancy told me stories at night in our motel room before we went to sleep, which reminded me of being around a camp fire. And, since we weren’t yet able to use the kitchen inside, there were many nights that we heated up dinners camp-style, on a little hot plate, and ate them in the motel rooms.

So it was that despite my initial reluctance to step out of that car and into our new life, all of my memories about the start of the incredible adventure called the Combes Family Inn are fond and happy.

Will I Drink Again? (cont.)

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My blog post last week generated a lot of comments both in the blogosphere and in real life. It seems my friends are as split as my own mind is on the subject of whether I should drink again when my New Year’s resolution is over.

It seems like those who think I should not drink again are the most adamant. Folks on this side of the ledger point to how much I’ve accomplished in six short months and ask why I would even consider drinking again. A few of these people pointed to the dramatic difference in my physical appearance from the weight loss and another pointed me to my own words in last week’s blog, the part about liking who I am now.

When I was explaining to one of my mother’s good friends how it would be nice to have the option of celebrating special occasions with alcohol, she responded, “Why would you do that? Once you do it for one special occasion, you’ll find a way to make every occasion special.”

A family member even went so far as to imply that it would be a major mistake to go back to drinking alcohol. His words really stuck with me and also got me to thinking that I have really opened a can of worms by asking for feedback on the matter.

Luckily, there are at least an equal number of people lined up on the other side. Another family member suggests that setting boundaries for executing a plan at moderate alcohol consumption would be a great New Year’s resolution for me in 2015. And, certainly my husband and many of my close friends look forward to a day when I will be re-joining them for wine-paired dinners and the like.

It occurs to me now that, whatever I decide, I am certain to disappoint some faction of my followers, many of whom are friends and family. My plan for handling that is to distract them with an even more challenging, more interesting, and more polarizing New Year’s resolution in 2015.

To amuse myself in the interim, I searched for articles by other people who had resolutions similar to mine. I found a former self-described “party girl” who made it through her year and decided not to drink again. Read about her here. Then, there’s this British woman who took her alcohol detox too far and became a recluse and lost most of her friends. She started drinking again. Read an article about her here. And, there’s a sporty guy who quit alcohol for a year to lose weight. He drank after the year was up and then quit again. You can read about him here.

Ultimately, whether or not to drink again is a decision I will make on my own. That said, I love pondering the diverse opinions generated along the way. Please continue to post your views and comments.

Will I Drink Again?

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By far, the question I get most often these days is: “Do you think you will drink again?” This is an interesting progression in people’s reaction to my resolution not to drink alcohol this year. In the beginning, it was: “Do you miss it?” (I answered that question in an early blog post which you can read here.)

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(Above: Me having my last drink, a nice glass of champagne last New Year’s Eve. Was this my last alcoholic beverage, ever?)

Initially, I assumed that I would start drinking again when New Year’s rolled around again. In my mind, I was very clear that I was giving up drinking for one full year and I would start again on January 1, 2015. In fact, I even considered contacting a few different champagne companies to see if any of them would consider sponsoring my New Year’s Eve party.

Now that I have already achieved both my weight loss goal and my marathon PR in just short five months, the question of “will I drink again?” is one that I have started to give a lot more thought. Nearly halfway through my “dry year,” I’m honestly still not sure. There are some pretty good reasons on both sides of the ledger.

3 Reasons to Drink Again:

1. I’ve earned it. I’ve lost more than 30 pounds from my highest point and now weigh my ideal weight for my body frame. Read about how I gained and lost 30 pounds here. Not drinking enabled my weight loss and my weight loss helped my marathon training and propelled me to my fastest marathon time. After all this hard work, haven’t I earned the right to drink wine again (in moderation, at least)?

2. I miss it. Like when I wrote about it earlier this year, there are still times when I miss drinking alcohol. I miss it the most when my husband, Bruce, and I got out for a nice dinner. Great food gets enhanced when it’s accompanied by a great glass of wine. One of the lowest points in this process thus far was when Bruce went to a wine and food-paired dinner without me. I also really crave a beer after a long run or road race. Simply put, there are times when an NA just doesn’t cut it.

3. I’m not an alcoholic. There were times in the past when I was disappointed in myself for drinking too much. And a few occasions when I crossed a line in my consumption. Having alcoholism in my family has always made me hypersensitive to how much I was drinking, and also caused me to worry that I might become an alcoholic. Back in January, I did some research and now feel confident that I am not an alcoholic, nor was I an alcohol abuser. (That post is here.)  

3 Reasons Not to Drink Again:

1. Why go back? This is probably the strongest argument not to drink again, and is one that was raised by my friend, Rose, in response to a very early blog post. A teetotaler herself, Rose asked: “Are you thinking of quitting for good? I mean, after you succeed in losing the weight, and you will, and running so hard that you get your PR, why go back to it?” Considering what not drinking has already enabled me to achieve, why would I go back?

2. I like who I am now. This is really just a continuation of the first reason above. In addition to achieving the goals I set for myself, not drinking has also enabled me to sleep better, given me clearer thinking, and made me a happier person. I just gave up one thing, it was relatively easy to do, and I have gained so much in the bargain. It was a fair trade, wasn’t it?  

3. Moderation is not my strong suit. I seem to have only two speeds: 100 miles per hour and full stop. Luckily, it’s also true that that when I commit to something, I go all in and don’t mess around. (This doesn’t mean that I am always successful.) Suffice it to say that moderation isn’t easy for me. This was why I gave up drinking in the first place, because just cutting back had seemed impossible.

All of the above said, although I am still mulling it over, I’m leaning toward giving moderation a try in 2015.  I think it would be really nice to celebrate all of my 2014 achievements with a glass of kick-ass champagne on New Year’s Eve. And, there’s still plenty of time for me to look for sponsors. Of course, there’s also more than six months for my thinking to evolve even further.

What are your thoughts and predictions about whether or not I should or will drink again when 2015 rolls around?

How I Gained Then Lost 30 Pounds

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Believe it or not, I gained 30 pounds through the years, beginning when I lived in Scottsdale, Arizona in the early 2000s up until when I stepped on the scale here in my Vermont home on January 1, 2013.

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(Above: My driver’s license at age 16. I recall deducting 5 pounds from my actual weight when I filled in the form. Nearly 30 years later, I’m an inch taller and weigh the same).

This is exactly how it went down (or, should I say, up?):

The first 10 pounds were the result of my thyroid slowing down, due to the radiation treatment I received in early 2002 to combat a hyper-thyroidal condition caused by Graves’ Disease.  Although it is an interesting and somewhat scary story, I won’t bore you with the details of how it temporarily affected my life. What’s pertinent here is that, after enjoying most of my life below this weight, I didn’t get below 145 pounds again until earlier this year.

The next 10 pounds were much more enjoyable to gain. I attribute them to a combination of my husband’s excellent cooking and my love of drinking wine along with all of that great food. I guess that, without the thyroid condition, I probably still would have gained at least 10 pounds through the second half of my ‘30s as a result of discovering the joys of great food and good wine. And, to be honest, I loved every minute of it!

The last 10 pounds somehow got tacked on seasonally one winter, a few years after we moved back to Vermont, in 2007.  I started putting on a few pounds at the tail end of each running season in the late fall, and continued adding them straight through the holidays, from a combination of going out to eat more, not resisting the plethora of holiday snacks in the office and at parties, and a seasonal curtailing of my commitment to exercise. As you might have guessed, weight gain during the holiday season is common, although studies about it vary.

Most of these last 10 pounds I could lose pretty easily when I put in the effort, usually as a New Year’s Resolution. And I did so a few times. At one point in 2012, I had lost 15 pounds, only to gain it all back later in the year. Over the course of 2013, I lost 10 pounds early on, but ended up down seven pounds at year-end, mainly from a modest commitment to exercise and by not pigging-out over the holidays. 

That’s a condensed version of how I found myself weighing 158 pounds when New Year’s 2014 rolled around. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that I decided to give up alcohol for the year and also to leverage this resolution to lose 20 additional pounds and to achieve my fastest marathon running time.

In a blog post in late April, I announced that I had lost the 20 pounds and attributed my success to four things: (1) Quitting drinking, (2) Telling the world about it, (3) Approaching it like a marathon, and (4) Using an app to track everything.

My marathon training schedule required me to step up my exercise regime beyond what I had done in the past. And I worked very, very hard on not “blowing it” during my training by over-compensating or over-rewarding myself; I described these strategies here. It paid off! During May, I lost 3 additional pounds.

I simply cannot believe that I have now lost all 30 pounds that I had gained these last dozen years. My new challenge is to maintain my weight at 135 pounds. In fact, I am adding a new goal to the mix: Keeping the 30 pounds off over the next year, so that I can join the National Weight Control Registry.  

Fiddlehead Season

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Fleeting, fragile spring.
A hunt before they unfurl.
Fiddlehead season.

Last year, I started writing a memoir and completed the first section, which is titled “Fiddlehead Season.” There’s something about the fleeting nature of this part of spring that reminds me of childhood, both my own and generally. Below is a condensed version of a small section of my memoir with an update from last weekend tacked on the end.

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(Only one variety of fern is edible and you have to pick them when they are still tightly wound in early spring.)

 

The father of a childhood friend has a hobby of foraging and had become somewhat famous locally because of this. He was very successful in fiddlehead season, so much so that it truly amazed me after I had moved back home and started foraging for fiddleheads myself. He was also the only person I personally knew who is an avid mushroom forager. I have always hated mushrooms, so this skill was something I had never learned to appreciate.

One spring after my husband and I moved back to my home town, I got a phone call out of the blue. My friend’s dad announced himself then said: “Sharon, let your mom know that I have a bunch of fiddleheads for her. You can come by the house any time.” Click.

The next morning, my mom and I headed over there. We weren’t even sure which house it was, despite the many times I had gone over there as a child. It’s funny how, over time, you can lose faith in your memory. Is it the white one next to the brick house or the other one in front of that? Luckily, we were saved by the lady of the house, who popped out of their front door when she saw our slowing car.  We met her at the open doorway, through which she handed us some Ziploc bags and told us to head out back to take as many fiddleheads as we wanted. We found them soaking in water in a large white bucket in the shade, under the eaves of their house.

I’ve received similar calls most springs since then, and sometimes I’d even go by the house myself and just help myself to fiddleheads from the bucket in the back.  It had become an early spring routine. But the calls stopped two years ago and I learned that my friend’s father’s health had begun to fail and he was no longer able to forage.

Last summer, I had arranged for some of my friends from out of town, who have a keen interest in Vermont mushrooms, to meet and discuss mushroom foraging with my friend’s father. He had diligently prepared by assembling several photographs of different local mushrooms he himself had taken through the years. He had also marked up several reference books with notes and tabs. Although my companions already seemed to know quite a bit about the edible mushrooms in the area, I could tell they were gleaning helpful tidbits and were thrilled with all of the preparations and visual aids.

I wasn’t really participating in the conversation, except by picking up a photo here and there, nodding, and asking a few tangentially related questions.  My mind wandered to other things and then, finally, to fiddleheads. As they kept talking about puffballs, chanterelles, and whatever else, I decided that I wasn’t going to leave that house without knowing that secret spot where he successfully forages for all of those fabulous fiddleheads every spring.

When the mushroom conversation started to slow and I could sense that my companions had learned a lot about fungi and were very happy to have a few great leads on where to look for certain types, I eased my way back into the conversation again. “Do you always say that it’s April first when you go out picking fiddleheads?” I asked. “May first,” he replied. “May first.” “And…you go somewhere along the river?” I probed further…

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Last weekend, my husband, Bruce, dropped me off at the bridge at the end of the road. I got out of the car with my baseball cap, my iPhone, and two pairs of scissors stuffed into our spaghetti strainer, which was set inside our green plastic vegetable strainer. I carried these items in my right hand and used my left to move sticks and trees and bushes out of my path. I went directly to the river bank and it wasn’t easy going.

Young green shoots were all over the place, mostly covered with dead twigs and long, brown grass that had become matted against the ground over the long, snowy winter. I went toward one patch of green and then another and another, ruling them all out. Then I made my way methodically south, staying about the same distance from the edge of the river. After moving a ways downstream, I noticed some unfurled fiddleheads to my left, the side that was away from the river. I hadn’t expected this. I was told the ferns were on the riverbank. No matter, at least I found them.

At first, I was disappointed to see the tall, thin fiddleheads already unwound, reaching toward the sun, because I thought I was too late. After all, I was told “May 1st.” However, the winter had been long, and when I looked in my usual spots the previous weekend I could see that it was still too early to pick them.

The truth is, they come and go so fast you can’t always plan to harvest them over a weekend. I knew that. I should have come during the work week. I was berating myself with these thoughts when I saw a large tight mound of perfect, tightly furled fiddleheads. They were large, and a deep, dark green, reminiscent of the ones I bought at a local market last spring. After I cut them, I spotted several others just like them nearby.

They were there all along. I just couldn’t see them when I was distracted by the unfurled ones.

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(My husband and I picked more than two pounds of fiddleheads at the secret spot.)

If you ever plan to be in northern New England in early May and have an interest in picking fiddleheads, check out my “how to” guide on Facebook.

Embracing Stretch Goals

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To be completely honest, when I set my secondary New Year’s resolution goals of losing 20 pounds and getting my Personal Record (“PR “) marathon time, I knew that I would be successful.

Sure enough, last week, I announced that I’ve already lost the weight. And — knock on wood — with my first marathon of the season just a few weeks away, I feel confident that I will get my marathon PR early.

**If you are not very interested in running, please stop reading now and tune in next week, when I promise to write about something else.**

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(Above: My view during my half marathon last weekend. Having my brother as my pacer, helped be achieve my best performance since 2005.)

To help ensure that I get my PR, I already contacted the Vermont City Marathon’s 4.5 hour pace team to introduce myself. Since my fastest marathon time so far is 4:31:10, sticking with this group will help me squeak in a new record. I’ll let you know whether or not I am successful over Memorial Day weekend. 

Since I realized early on that these two sub-goals were sandbagged, I announced another goal for my dry year about a month ago. It’s the big kahuna: qualifying for the Boston Marathon. This is a “stretch goal,” defined as a goal that “cannot be achieved by incremental or small improvements but requires extending oneself to the limit to be actualized.” Some people might even say that it’s impossible for me to “Boston Qualify,” or BQ. I mentioned my current PR marathon time above. To qualify for Boston, I need to cut more than 35 minutes off my best time.

Do I think I can do it? You bet. However, like everything else worth striving for in life, it will take goal setting, commitment, and follow-through. This is a great summary on how to set athletic goals. In order to BQ, I am now approaching every single workout with multiple goals in my head: the minimum I will accept, the true goal, and the stretch goal. I find that I am reaching these true goals and, such as in the half marathon last weekend, I am sometimes even surpassing the stretch goal. 

I’ve already significantly improved my chances of cutting 35 minutes off of my marathon time by quitting drinking and losing 20 pounds. In a previous blog post I shared this summary given to Princeton athletes on the negative impacts of alcohol on athletic performance and this Runner’s World article about how running weight makes people faster.

Additionally, I am committed to a more aggressive training plan, Hal Higdon’s Marathon Intermediate 2. Compared to my past training, this plan requires me to run three times during the work week, with the Wednesday run peaking at 10 miles. It also has a very rigorous weekend running schedule that features a Saturday run at my planned marathon pace that also peaks at 10 miles. Running at pace on Saturdays means that I have to run the Sunday long run fatigued. Speaking of the Sunday long run, a beginner’s training program peaks with an 18-mile run, and an intermediate program peaks with one 20-mile run. This plan requires that I run three 20-mile training runs. Honestly, that’s rough.

A seasoned, marathon-running friend, who is affectionately known as “B-Rad,” once told me, “I run marathons at a minimum every third week, because I hate those long training runs.” I do, too. So, with B-Rad’s training in mind, I have scheduled two marathons prior to my BQ race, as well as three half marathons. This helps me mentally by limiting the number of long training runs. From here on out, I just need to do one each of a 15-, 16-, 18- and 20-mile training run in preparation for my BQ try on July 25th.

Since my recent half marathon performance exceeded my stretch goal, I absolutely believe that I can qualify for Boston. This was my first sub-2 hour “half” since 2006 (see my Arizona Road Racer results here). My time of 1:55:57 in the Middlebury Maple Run was 21 minutes faster than my own performance in the same race last year. A year ago, I placed 44th out of 62 women in my group, women in their 40’s. This year, I placed 10th out of 54, well into the top 20% of my group.

I checked in with Runner’s World’s Race Times Predictor to see how this half marathon performance should translate on marathon day. It equates to a 4:02:00 marathon time, 29 minutes faster than my current PR but seven minutes slower than what I need to BQ. This is great news! Vermont is hilly, while my BQ course is flat. Middlebury has a lot unpredictable and varied terrain, while my BQ course is a five-mile loop that I will run multiple times.

For good measure, I also put my target marathon time into the Race Times Predictor and learned that a 1:52:00 half marathon time is equivalent. I’m trying for that time, a PR for that distance, in the Crowley Road Race in early July. Wish me luck. And, as you might expect, I’ll let you know how it goes.

I Am Sisyphus (Again)

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Last week, I reported the good news that I had already lost 20 pounds and returned to my goal weight of 138 pounds.  Sadly, I can already tell that weight maintenance is going to be a battle. And, unfortunately, it looks like one that may last the rest of my life. That 20th and final pound has been lost, gained, and re-claimed four times and it’s only been a few weeks. Huffington Post says I need to get used to this, because “weight maintenance is actually the state of gaining and losing small amounts of weight over and over again.”

This reminds me of the Myth of Sisyphus, about which I wrote this poem in 1997:

And I was Sisyphus again today,
Elated at the top,
Only to fall down under the rock’s
Crushing weight.
Yet I know I will be happy again tomorrow,
Only to slip back down again,
Still happy afterward, as I approach the crest.
Mankind and I, we are so simple in
Both our pleasures and our defeats.

To be successful, the Mayo Clinic suggests that “weight maintenance requires daily exercise, a healthy menu, a long-term commitment, and constant vigilance.” Wait a minute. This sounds suspiciously like dieting. They also say not to worry, because it will get easier after two to 5 years of keeping the weight off. When they said “a long-term commitment,” they weren’t kidding. It’s clear that I’m going to need as many strategies to maintain my weight as I did to lose it the first place.

My first strategy is to continue using the MyFitnessPal app every day. As I have explained in the past, this is my version of keeping a food and exercise journal. According to WebMB, I should be able to maintain my weight while consuming 2,000 calories a day.  This is significantly more than the 1,200 calorie diet I’ve been on. I just can’t bring myself to program this into my settings, so I’m starting with 1,500 and will adjust later, as needed.

My second strategy is to remain committed to exercise. This should be the easy part for me, since I am still training for marathons and have always been active. This article in Women’s Health Magazine suggests that exercise is the single most important factor in keeping weight off. The stat came from The National Weight Control Registry which tracks people who successfully maintained weight loss of 30 pounds or more. It turns out that 90% of these people exercise an average of one hour per day.

This study using data from the Registry confirms that my first two strategies are important to maintaining my weight and also suggests two others. These are monitoring my weight regularly and having a low-fat diet. We have a digital scale in our master bathroom and I use it almost every day, making the weight monitoring no problem. Focusing on lowering fat is another matter. I lost the weight by counting calories and exercising. The only significant diet change I made was cutting out alcohol. Generally speaking, I ate essentially whatever I wanted in lower quantities or I exercised more to burn it off. I’m going to mull over the low-fat focus a bit more…

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(Above: My brother helped pace my half marathon run in Middlebury, VT on May 4, enabling me to finish well under a 9 minute-per-mile pace.) 

What is going to be critical to maintaining my weight is to be vigilant on race weekends. Take this past weekend for example:  I ran a half marathon faster than my goal, in 1 hour and 56 minutes. My average pace of 8:51 per mile is under my marathon pace needed to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I even ranked in the upper 20% of all female runners in their 40s, my “group.” That’s the great news. The bad news is that it’s two days after the race and I’ve gained three pounds. 

Evidently this is common, especially for women, when training for marathons.  A few of the many online articles about this can be found here, here, and here. The main causes of the weight gain include overestimating energy needs, feeling you deserve to eat what you want, and not being active enough outside of the actual training. Originally, I was thinking of not using my app during race weekends as a reward. I’m scratching that idea to make sure I keep the 20 pounds off. If I’m destined to be Sisyphus, I should at least make rolling that stone up the hill easier on myself.

Dogs As Running Partners

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For the third year in a row, I am training for a marathon. This year, my secret weapon is my new running partner. She was carefully selected from hundreds of available options. She is relatively tall and lean and from a long line of very energetic stock. In fact, you could say that she was bred to run around all day long. She is always ready to go and, no matter what, she encourages me forward, particularly on my longest training runs.

Who is this amazing running partner? My dog, Cleopatra, a 15-month old Jack Russell-hound mix that my husband and I rescued in October last year. This link takes you to the website of the wonderful organization in New York State that pulled Cleo out of a kill shelter in Alabama, from which we adopted her.

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(Above: This selfie was taken the day we adopted Cleo, in the car on the way home.)

I knew at first sight that she’d make a great running partner. I didn’t know how great until one day after an 8-mile run when Cleo ran circles around our house and property in a full-on sprint for several minutes. “Hmmmm,” I murmured out loud, “I guess she can run further than 8 miles.”

When I told my husband and some of my friends about Cleo’s running prowess, each time I was asked things like “Is it good for her?” and “How far can she run?” This prompted me to do some research.

According to all of the articles I found, including this one from Outside, this one from Animal Planet, and this one from Runner’s World, Cleo makes it into the top 10 running dogs on both sides of her family. She’s half Jack Russell which is number 10 and half some sort of hound that is most likely a pointer. The pointers are represented in the top 10 by Weimaraner at number 2 and Vizsla at number 8. German pointer is also on the list.

Animal Planet points to these breeds as being particularly great at running long distances. According to the article, “If your daily journey consists of a ten mile trek or more, then the following dogs will be able to keep up with you because of their medium build and the muscles in their hind parts: German shorthaired pointers, Goldendoodles, Jack Russell terriers, Weimaraners and Vizslas.”

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(Above: Cleo loves to run and has a great build for it.)

This information was very encouraging and also seemed validated in my several training runs with Cleo so far. However, I was reminded by this post at The SparkPeople that it’s important to check with my vet before pushing her too hard. I immediately called to make an appointment and decided to wait until seeing the vet before taking Cleo beyond 10 miles again. I’m very glad I did.

Dr. Heath McNutt, at Riverside Pet Care in Ludlow and Rutland, Vermont, is a wonderful person who is remarkably dedicated to the animals he treats. Based on our experience with him as the vet for our dearly departed and beloved Roxy, I have great trust in his expertise and opinion. During Cleo’s check-up, I told Dr. McNutt what I learned online about dogs running and that I was hoping Cleo could come along on all of my training runs, even the 20 milers.  His response gave me a lot to think about.

“When I think about dogs running long distances, it stresses me out,” Dr. McNutt began ominously. “Human bodies are built better for running. Dogs are generally designed to run really fast for short periods of time. Just because they are willing to do it, it doesn’t mean it’s best for them. That said, I also acknowledge that some breeds are better suited to running than others.”

He then told me that it’s important for me to check-in with Cleo on the faster runs and the longer runs and to stop or significantly slow down if she is excessively panting or has a dry tongue. He further explained that terrain is important. “For example, stay off of asphalt in the summer and watch for sore feet,” he said.

Dr. McNutt could tell that I wanted him to be more specific in his guidance about how to best incorporate Cleo into my training schedule. I was glad when he thought for an extra few moments and added, “I think the long runs at your pace are fine. She can move all day long. But, I would be more concerned about the (racing) pace runs. She won’t complain, because she is a natural athlete.”

This was really great information. I’m so glad that I checked with my vet to make sure that what I had researched made sense in our specific situation. Now, I better understand which parts of my training are appropriate for Cleo and which are not. I have decided to limit Cleo’s pace runs to 6 miles. On the long runs, I’ll be sure to check her feet, panting, and tongue every 3-4 miles. Finally, I’m going to map my longer runs in loops near my house, so that I have a bail-out for Cleo mid-run, just in case.

 

P.S. Since Cleo is so popular, I’m adding some additional photos of her. She is full grown at almost 31 pounds.

Cleo 4

Cleo 1

Cleo 3

Cleo 2

Any Damned Fool

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Talking with a friend of mine last week about our respective running schedules, I was reminded of a lesson I learned at basketball camp the summer before my freshman year of high school.

Image(Above: Armed with the knowledge I gained at basketball camp, I made varsity my freshman year. I’m in the back row, with the short, poofy hair, in between the two girls with glasses.)

When I asked my friend about her running plans for the weekend, she said that she was going to “try to make time for a run.” I know this might sound harsh, but it became clear to me in the middle of our conversation that my friend wasn’t going to be running. Sure enough, when I checked in with her on Sunday night, she said she hadn’t run.

Clearly, I don’t have the ability to read minds or to predict the future. A long time ago, however, through my own trial and error, I learned that exercise is just like anything else in life. The first step to achieving something is to actually believe that it will happen.

What does this have to do with basketball camp? When I went to K.C. Jones‘ Celtics Basketball Camp after 8th grade, the former Celtics assistant coach, Donald “Ducky” Meade, told us a story on this very topic that I have never forgotten. In fact, his story is the sole recollection I have from that whole week at camp. It’s a life lesson worth its weight in gold, and certainly worth the cost of one week of summer camp!

The story Ducky told went something like this:

There is a very close basketball game and the key player on the other team has been scoring over and over again. It’s clear to the coach that there’s just no way his home team is going to win, if they can’t shore up their defenses against this one, hot-shot player. 

So the coach turns to the bench and walks toward one of the players–let’s call him Jimmy.  The coach says to him, “Jimmy, I need you to go in there right now and stick with #14. Do not let him score again.”

Jimmy immediately stands up and says, “Coach, I’ll try,” and then moves toward the score keepers to check-in.

The coach steps between Jimmy and the check-in table and says, “Any damned fool can try. Sit down.” He then points to another player and asks him to go into the game instead of Jimmy.

After telling the story, Ducky asked us why the coach didn’t put Jimmy in. None of the girls, including me, immediately understood why, and thought it was really mean of the coach to bench Jimmy. A few of us shook our heads, indicating “No.”

Ducky was a very, very small older man who was extremely energetic and animated. He nearly went ballistic that we didn’t understand the point of his story. So, he jumped around in front of us and explained that, in sports you have to commit 200%, and really believe that you are going to succeed in order to do so. And that’s why Jimmy didn’t get to play in that game. By saying the he would “try” he indicated to his coach that he wasn’t fully committed, and that, inside, he did not have true belief that he could stop that other player from scoring.

After hearing the explanation, it made perfect sense to me. In sports and in life, I’ve been reminded of this truth many times since. In fact, in the short time since I decided to write about this topic, a significant event involving athletic belief has taken place that puts an even finer point on my story. It is much more powerful and positive than the tale about my friend who didn’t fully commit to planning for a weekend run.

I am referring to the story of Meb Keflezighi, who won yesterday’s Boston Marathon, the first American man to do so since 1983. Meb certainly is one of the great American long-distance runners of his generation, having won the New York City Marathon (2009) and earned an Olympic silver medal at the Athens summer games (2004). However, he is turning 39 in a few short days and was listed on the 4th page of the elite runners list in the Boston Marathon press kit (the names were placed in order of their fastest marathon times).

Because of this, no one believed that Meb was going to win the Boston Marathon. When I say “no one,” of course, what I really mean is that no one other than Meb himself thought that he could win it. Yet, on a fine running day in Boston, Meb beat scores of runners significantly younger and faster than himself and crossed the finish line first, thus cementing himself among the all-time great American runners.

Not everyone who believes they will be successful will be. However, if you do not believe it, you can be pretty certain that you will fail.

Cat School

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I enjoyed putting together my last post, “My Sibs and Me.” So much so, in fact, that I have to tell one more sibling story.

As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, I am writing a memoir. In the process, I have dusted off several boxes of old books, letters, journals and photographs. The last box I opened had several reports and personal mementos from my primary and secondary school years in Ludlow, Vermont.

Among these items was a typed, untitled, one-page story with an “A-” in red ink at the top. I have no idea how old I was when I wrote it, or what my assignment was. The story, however, is one that I have told many, many times through the years, even very recently. In all of those recountings, though, I never quite told it the same way that it was typed by my young self on a nearly transparent sheet of typing paper.

The story takes place when I was four and my brother Wayne was five. At the time, our older brother Bill was six and in first grade. I was in my first year of a pre-school program, and was very worried about how my cat passed his days while I was away at school. My mother eventually found my many nagging questions about my cat—“Gimpy”—tiresome and finally told me that Gimpy also went to school. She explained that, as soon as we three kids went off to school in the morning, Gimpy went to “Cat School.”

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(Above: This photo was taken about the same time that the “cat school” story takes place.)

On the morning of the story, the pre-school was closed, but the elementary school was still in session. This meant that Billy went off to school while Wayne and I stayed home. Shortly after Billy had left, I looked out the window and spied Gimpy walking around outside. I ran to Wayne and told him to come with me and look, because “Gimpy must be on his way to Cat School!”

Below is exactly what was written on the typed page that I found.

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When I was about four, my family lived in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Our house had some woods and a swamp behind it.

One day, my brother, Wayne, and I decided to follow our cat, Gimpy, around to see where he goes during the day. The cat started to head for the woods, so Wayne and I chased him. I don’t remember how long we followed Gimpy, but somewhere in the middle of the woods, we lost sight of him.

I started to cry and Wayne said, “I know how to get home from here.”

We started heading back the way we came and came to the swamp. Wayne walked right through the water and when he got to the other side, he said, “Sharon, come on, it isn’t that deep.”

I said, “I don’t want to get wet!”

Finally, I went in the swamp and got wet all the way up to my chest. After a bit of walking we reached a place we’d seen before.

I said, “Our house is this way.”

“No, stupid, it’s this way,” Wayne said.

Wayne went his way and I went mine. When I couldn’t see Wayne any more, I started screaming and (then turned around and) caught up with him. I followed him through the woods and finally we were out of the woods and in our back yard. Mom was standing next to the house yelling at us. We ran to Mom and hugged her. I think she was crying.

Mom said, “Oh, I’m so glad to see you! If you ever run away again I’ll give you both a licking!”

By: Sharon Combes

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Finding my old school essay allowed me to see this childhood episode through my own eyes as a child. I imagine myself being too embarrassed at the time that I wrote it to acknowledge that I believed my Mom when she said that our cat went to school. Therefore, I completely left that part out, despite it being a fundamental part of the story.

This tale is a special sibling story to me, because it’s a microcosm of my relationship with Wayne when Billy wasn’t around. We had our differences, but we still turned to each other and, ultimately, bonded.

I’d love to hear other childhood sibling stories. Please comment on this post with one of your favorites.